Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Globe Special: Back From the Beach

Look what I was covered in when I logged in:

Rush to Save Wildlife in California Oil Spill

At least the drought is over:

"Deluges in Great Plains boost comeback from years of drought" by Roxana Hegeman Associated Press  May 24, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. — Drenching rains that recently soaked the Great Plains have brought welcomed moisture to areas still recovering from droughts, greening pastures as ranchers begin the annual rite of moving cattle to the nation’s summer grazing lands.

Ranchers in Kansas and elsewhere in cattle country are still trying to rebuild herds that were decimated in the 2012 and 2013 droughts, when they sold off much of their livestock because of shriveled pastures and skyrocketing hay prices.

But in the past month, ranchers have benefited from inches of rain: parts of Oklahoma and Texas averaged between 400 and 500 percent of their normal rainfall, and central Kansas saw 125 percent of what’s normal, according to Don Keeney, MDA Weather Services meteorologist.

‘‘Nationally, range and pasture conditions are notably improved from last year and other recent periods of drought throughout the US,’’ Kansas State University Extension beef specialist Glynn Tonsor said, adding that it means beef cow herds will expand as planned.

That’s good news for consumers, who are seeing record retail beef prices — averaging $6.08 a pound for the all-fresh beef, according to the US Department of Agriculture, 14 percent higher than it was a year ago. Current prices are a result of a double whammy: tighter beef supplies because of cutbacks in herds during the drought and fewer calves going to the slaughterhouse now as ranchers restock herds.

The expansion is reflected in the last official count in January showing the nation’s cattle herd was up by 600,000 head compared with a year ago — which means more calves are being born this year. ‘‘We are expanding the herd very quickly right now,’’ said Kevin Good, a market analyst with industry-tracking group CattleFax.

His assessment is based on two important indicators. First, the number of heifers being slaughtered is down between 7 and 8 percent, reflecting that ranchers are keeping their young female calves rather than marketing them. Secondly, slaughter numbers are down 17 percent, an indication fewer animals are going to market than during the drought years.

Those dynamics all come back to the drought’s lingering effects that ranchers are now watching dissipate as lush pasture grasses replace the stunted stubble of dry years.

Kansas cattleman Ken Grecian sold off during the recent droughts about a third of his cattle herd that had once numbered 350. But last year’s summer rains encouraged him to begin rebuilding, and he added about 55 heifers this year.

Most of his grass recovered nicely last summer, and he put fewer cattle out so as not to overgraze it. This year, he thinks his pastures will have recovered enough to increase the numbers to near normal.

‘‘As far as the drought being broken, I don’t think it is broken yet,’’ Grecian said. ‘‘It wouldn’t take too many hot days to make things look tough again.’’


Sand has turned to mud and then.... flood?

Also see: Cruise ship that struck coral reef in Bermuda back in Boston

Related: Day at the Beach

Sorry I ran out of gas yesterday:

"Summer season starts with lowest Memorial weekend gas prices in a decade" by Jay Fitzgerald Globe Correspondent  May 21, 2015

Gasoline prices have climbed over the past few weeks and may rise few cents more before Memorial Day, one of the biggest driving weekends of the year.

But grumbling motorists can take solace as they fill up their tanks before cruising to the Cape or other get-aways: Prices are the lowest in a decade heading into the holiday weekend and about $1 less than a year ago.

Most specialists say prices should hold near current levels for the rest of the summer, barring any natural or man-made catastrophes that could threaten supplies.

“It’s hard to remember that prices were so much higher last year,” said Rob Smith, an analyst at IHS Energy, a Denver research and consulting firm. “I was recently filling up my gas tank and noticed I was paying more than I was a few months back. Then I remembered how much it cost just a year ago.”

Average gasoline prices in Massachusetts have jumped nearly 20 cents a gallon over the past month to about $2.63 cents, according to AAA, a nonprofit auto services organization, but remain well below $3.65 a year ago. Nationally, prices are up more 25 cents to $2.72 a gallon, compared to $3.64 a gallon during the same period in 2014.

Gasoline has followed the price of crude, which accounts for most of the cost of gasoline. A year ago crude prices were above $100 a barrel, but soon after began to plummet, falling to a low of $43 a barrel in March as oil from the US production boom flooded the market.

Crude oil prices, however, began rising again, hitting $65 a barrel earlier this month, partly because of fears that US production was slowing.


Patrick DeHaan, an analyst at, a gas price site for consumers, and others expressed confidence that fuel prices, though they may still rise a few more cents in coming weeks, should remain largely stable through the summer as crude production holds at historically high levels.

In addition, prices normally jump in the spring as refineries shut down for routine maintenance and switch over to summer gasoline blends, formulated to reduce smog. Those refineries are operating again, which should also help stabilize prices, analysts said.

American motorists appear to be responding to lower gas prices and an improving economy.

Related: $$DW

Also see:

"Consumer confidence unexpectedly fell in May by the most in more than two years as Americans’ views on the economy dimmed. The University of Michigan preliminary index of sentiment dropped to 88.6, the lowest since October, from 95.9 in April. The 7.3-point decrease was the largest since December 2012. News that the world’s largest economy stalled last quarter shook Americans’ outlook, while the tick up in fuel costs since early March also contributed to the gloomier perceptions. Households still held relatively upbeat views on incomes, a sign spending will be sustained."

Even U.S. banks are saying the first quarter was again a contraction (blame the bad winter weather, blah, blah). So what to do about it?

Government to review mystery of slow first-quarter growth

Yeah, they are going to review the mystery of how and why they keep lying to you. I guess they think we will fall for anything these days. 

UPDATE: Manhattan FAO Schwarz store to close 


Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, a unit of the Moody’s rating agency, said many consumers are spending gas savings on other items and services, from taking longer vacations to buying new household gadgets. But a surprising number of Americans appear to be stashing away their gas savings, Zandi noted.

Or there are none.

The US savings rate for disposable income rose to 5.5 percent in the first three months of the year, compared to 4.9 percent during the same period a year ago.

One theory is that people don’t believe gas prices will stay low for much longer, so they don’t spend it,” said Zandi. “Another theory is that people let it build up in their savings accounts and then spend it later. Eventually, I think people will end up spending the money. In fact, I’m expecting spending to increase this summer. I’d be surprised if it didn’t.”

Not me. These guys have been wrong for the last eight years with their carrot-and-$tick predictions. Look at 'em! All he has is "theories."


Car ride back was kind of quiet until right at the end, huh?


Thought you should know why it took me until Sunday to get back to you:

"Flash floods in Oklahoma, Texas kill two.... Rivers rose so fast that whole communities woke up Sunday morning surrounded by water. This May is already the wettest on record for several cities in the southern Plains states, with days to go and more rain to come. The reasons include a prolonged warming of Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures, which generally results in cooler air, coupled with an active southern jet stream and plentiful moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, said meteorologist Forrest Mitchell at the National Weather Service office in Norman, Okla. ‘‘It looks like the rainfall that we’re getting now may actually officially end the drought,’’ which has gripped the southern Plains states for years, Mitchell said, noting that moisture now reaches about two feet below the surface of the soil and many lakes and reservoirs are full. The storm system was pushing northeast Sunday."

Looks like its arrived, and then once I got on the bridge:

"Investors sought for a new Cape Cod bridge; Open-road tolls could ease traffic" by Jon Chesto Globe Staff  May 25, 2015

Long sunny days on Coast Guard Beach. Lazy nights watching Cape Cod Baseball League teams battle for supremacy. And, of course, those countless hours stuck in a car on Route 6.

That's the way they frame everything.

It’s the most enduring of Cape Cod rituals, the snarl of traffic that traps drivers desperate to cross the canal.

Now the state Department of Transportation is advancing a way to ease the pain: a new bridge, funded by private investors.

I won't be crossing it anytime soon.

The agency has focused on the possibility of adding a three-lane span next to the Sagamore Bridge. It would be limited to Cape-bound traffic, and drivers would pay a toll to use it. The Sagamore, meanwhile, would become a one-way, three-lane bridge to handle traffic coming off the Cape, with no toll.

Those who don’t want to pay to get across the canal could still take the Bourne Bridge, nearly 4½ miles away.

The notion of another canal crossing has been tossed around for years on the Cape, treated more as a joke than a real prospect. Remember those Cape Cod Tunnel permits, the prank stickers that locals planted on their car windows?


A new bridge could be a decade away, but two major factors have emerged to make it a possibility. A formal effort is underway to find private investors willing to pay for highway projects in exchange for toll revenue. And then there is the arrival of open-road tolling that lets fares be collected without drivers having to slow and further clog traffic.

The state Department of Transportation has hired a Boston engineering firm, Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, to help study traffic patterns around the Cape Cod Canal. (The firm has a long local history, having designed the existing New Deal-era bridges.) Later this summer, the state agency and the firm plan to assess the impact of a third bridge, as well as simpler fixes like lane changes and signal upgrades, Transportation Department spokesman Michael Verseckes confirmed. The agency plans to use the results, expected by the end of the year, to decide whether to move ahead with a new bridge.

“Governor Baker believes public-private partnerships offer effective tools for upgrading the Commonwealth’s infrastructure,” spokesman Tim Buckley said. “He looks forward to reviewing the canal bridge study, as it is clear Cape Cod traffic is a real concern.”

What a mess he has stepped into. I may not even agree with him on everything, but thank him for taking on the job after we have found to be 8 years of dereliction under Deval.

Don’t expect to zip over a shiny new span anytime soon. Even if the study shows that a third bridge would have favorable traffic impacts and be economically viable, the state must find a private-sector partner to finance the roughly half-billion dollars needed for construction.

The Army Corps of Engineers — which owns the existing bridges and has controlled the canal since the late 1920s — also needs to be convinced.

And the hardest sell could be to skeptical Cape Cod residents: Highway officials say they will not go ahead without local support. The proposal is still so new that many year-rounders don’t even know about it yet.

All told, the permitting and construction could take six to 10 years.

The traffic jams at the bridges are the stuff of summer legend. Roughly 70,000 vehicles can cross the Sagamore on a busy summer Saturday. But heavy congestion has spread into the spring and fall as lane closures for maintenance work increase in frequency.

The Sagamore and the Bourne bridges, largely unchanged from when they were built in the 1930s, are simply insufficient for today’s demands. The lanes are narrow, the sidewalks unfriendly for pedestrians and cyclists. There is no room for a breakdown lane.

Replacing the old Sagamore Rotary with a “flyover” in 2006 made a dent in the traffic problems but did not come close to solving them.

Then, in 2009, the Legislature passed a transportation law that authorized the Department of Transportation to enter into partnerships with private investors for road and bridge construction: The agency staff would assess proposals before taking the best of them to a state-appointed commission for guidance and approval.

But the commission didn’t come together until 2013.

It was at that point that I changed the station (i.e. stopped reading).

That same year, state engineers, intent on solving the Cape’s traffic woes, hashed out a novel concept: a privately funded bridge next to the Sagamore. That July, transportation administrator Frank DePaola ran the idea past Wendy Northcross, chief executive of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. Northcross quickly embraced it, and her group emerged as one of its most powerful advocates.

Bill Catania, president of the hotel operator Catania Hospitality Group, said bridge traffic is not just an annoyance, it’s bad for business: “People go, ‘Let’s go to New Hampshire instead — or Rhode Island.’ ”

Yeah, I did see that as I scanned the rest before outlining it all in red ink. 

Seeing as we are stuck in traffic, maybe you would like something to read?

Enlisting private investors to build roads and bridges is not a new idea, although none of these projects exist in Massachusetts yet. Examples elsewhere date to the 1990s in the United States, and long before that in Europe and Australia. And they are appearing with increasing frequency as highway officials look for creative ways to finance ambitious projects.

One of the first examples in the Northeast is the $1.5 billion Goethals Bridge replacement, underway between New Jersey and Staten Island. It is being financed and built by the Australian financial giant Macquarie Group and a Nebraska builder, Kiewit Corp., for the local port authority.

When Massachusetts transportation officials held an event in October for potential investors in a Cape bridge and a separate high-speed toll lane along Route 3, more than 100 people showed up, signaling potentially strong interest.

State officials said a second Sagamore bridge could cost $400 million to $700 million. A private developer — probably a consortium or joint venture, not just one firm — could recoup that money and make a profit by charging $4 or $5 per trip over the course of 50 years. That price tag includes the costs of a proposed connector road from Route 25. (A mid-canal toll bridge is also still being discussed as an alternative.)

The Army Corps, meanwhile, is embarking on its own review of the existing bridges to determine whether the aging spans need to be renovated or replaced. If the Army Corps moves ahead with fixes, however, the focus would not be on adding lanes to alleviate traffic. A decision on that front would not come until at least 2017, and DePaola said he does not want to wait much longer.

There are potential pitfalls, of course, in outsourcing public infrastructure development to private companies. Cliff Winston, a transportation expert at the Brookings Institution, said there is nothing to stop a developer from trying to renegotiate the tolls or filing for bankruptcy protection if revenue falls short of expectations.

“I’m glad to see that finally somebody is paying attention to this [Cape traffic problem],” Winston said. “But there are a lot of reasons to be cautious.”

Robert Poole, transportation policy director at the libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation, sees it differently: He said that public-private partnerships can be a more efficient way to handle big infrastructure projects. A private developer, he said, does not need to focus on the lowest bidders, a frequent requirement with public contracts that can lead to costly problems later.

“If the Big Dig was done as one of these things, it almost certainly would have turned out differently,” Poole said.

But tolls could prove a sticking point for Cape Cod residents who have a love-hate relationship with the crowds that flock to the beaches every summer. Discounted or free tolls could be offered to people who live near the bridge. Many regular users, though, may end up paying the full cost. That could spark opposition, which state officials hope to avoid.

I won't be paying one because I never head out that way.

“They work and live and play in that area and do not feel like they should have to pay a toll to go from one side of their community to another,” said state Senator Vinny deMacedo, a Plymouth Republican.

State Senator Dan Wolf said he thinks the state should first consider allowing a public agency to do the job. The Harwich Democrat said private investors would want an annual return of 10 to 12 percent or more, driving up the price of the tolls required to pay for it. “The bar needs to be very high in projects where we are in effect selling public infrastructure for private companies to gain or profit,” said Wolf, Cape Air’s chief executive.

Many business owners and executives do not care who owns the new bridge. They just want it to get built.

Bill Zammer, owner of the Coonamessett Inn and Flying Bridge restaurants in Falmouth, said traffic is so bad that he has recommended several times that wedding parties hold cocktail hours before the main event to allow time for guests who are snagged at the canal. He’s tired of the headaches. So are the brides.

“I’ve had a mother of a bride who couldn’t get to a wedding on time,” Zammer said, “because of traffic on the bridge.”


Time to burn any bridges back to this post (fracking is a good thing, girl). Bye.